The Milwaukee Bucks traded defensive two-guard Donte DiVincenzo for big man Serge Ibaka ahead of the NBA trade deadline Friday. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news first: the Bucks threw in DiVincenzo as the centerpiece in a package that also included Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood to land the Congolese big man.
Sports fandom is equal parts cheering through the good times as it is enjoying the process, and watching DiVincenzo’s evolution was a consistently rewarding part of being a fan of the defending champs. Beyond DiVincenzo, the Bucks fiefdom hardly had a player to get excited about. Jordan Nwora, for instance, has shown brief flashes of legitimate shot-creating talent, but has never had the opportunities that DiVincenzo was afforded earlier on.
Though it’s a legitimately league-altering move that secures better playoff positioning for the defending champions, Bucks fans are also losing their 17th pick in the 2018 NBA draft who spent four fruitful years with the team. DiVincenzo was hardly what you’d call a fan favorite, but he was the closest thing the contending Bucks had to a developmental prospect in the Giannis Antetokounmpo era.
This writer, at the risk of sounding unjournalistic, has always been (and really, will always be) an unashamed Donte believer. When the Bucks selected DiVincenzo in 2018, hopes were high that he could replicate his Villanova performances with more consistency next to Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, and Antetokounmpo.
Could things have worked out differently?
It was an interesting couple of years, to say the least. Fan narratives on DiVincenzo vacillated by the day, and unfortunately, so did his production. Sometimes he was a one-dimensional “bust” who was no better than Bledsoe. Other times he was the Bucks’ secret weapon waiting to be unleashed in a playoff setting.
At another time, it was looking like Donte was developing into an integral member of the Bucks’ core for the foreseeable future. His best and last full season starting for the team saw him putting up excellent numbers for a young guard of 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game on a respectable 38 percent shooting clip from distance. Year after year, his numbers saw consistent increases across the board.
And at his best, he was an all-around producer for the Bucks who was on the cusp of being a genuine two-way force. On most days, he and Jrue Holiday made up arguably the best defensive backcourt in the association. Donte made his mark by showcasing stifling yet fundamental defense against the league’s best. He had his shortcomings, but no one could deny he was a ball-hawk in every sense of the phrase. Even with ball-stoppers like Holiday and Antetokounmpo on the team, a good number of the team’s most electric and impactful highlights on that end of the floor were from DiVincenzo.
If things had gone differently, Donte certainly would have been among the mainstays for the Bucks. His activity and floor-spacing on one end coupled with his tireless off-ball defense on the other made him an excellent companion to trot out alongside the Bucks’ big three. He wasn’t going to be a star by any means, but he was also trending towards being a capable sixth man or even fourth option for the contending Bucks.
Off the court, though, Donte the person was also extremely well-loved in the city of Milwaukee. His teammates and coaching staff routinely sang praises for his character and tenacity, while he was regularly featured in the team’s social media content cheering on his teammates whether in-game or in practice.
“He’s been here four years and we’ve seen him grow as a man and as a player…he was a huge part of us last year with our run. He’s one of the best guys in the league that you could have as a teammate, so to see him go is definitely tough,” Khris Middleton said of DiVincenzo when asked about the trade.
“I have such great respect and really, really strong feelings about Donte the player, Donte the human. There’s a reason we drafted him; he brings a lot to the table,” head coach Mike Budenholzer also said.
“Teammates love him. Coaches love him. That’s the hard part. Hopefully, we can find ways to replace what Donte brings.”
The trade was not at all a surprising one
Being the defending champs, it’s tough to fault the Bucks for taking an opportunity to patch one of the remaining holes in their roster. All things considered, it was also a move that probably had to happen sooner or later for a win-now club looking to maximize the peak of one of the best two-way forces in recent memory. They simply didn’t have the time to wait for him to recover from injury and develop his game any longer.
Admittedly, while Donte was indeed a balanced, all-around player, he simply never developed any sort of consistency on the offensive end, which was eventually to the detriment of the team. Save for his impeccable defense and motor, he never really built any sort of identity as a shooting guard and was never truly excellent in any one area of the game that he could truly call his own. Consequently, his opportunities dwindled until they eventually ran dry. Even if the fit was there, the need for another player of his caliber just wasn’t given the redundancies in skillsets.
The writing was already on the wall when the Bucks first tried to trade him for Bogdan Bogdanovic, also a needle-moving acquisition at the time. It shouldn’t have been surprising then that the Bucks opted to extend the more consistent Grayson Allen even after that trade fell through. Evidently, Donte just wasn’t in their long-term plans moving forward anymore. The Bucks had made their choice: Connaughton was already their do-everything glue guy, and Allen was already their sharpshooting two-guard.
At the same time, it’s often forgotten that DiVincenzo was a net positive for most of his tenure with the Bucks. According to PBP Stats, the Bucks outscored opposing teams by +7.36 with DiVincenzo playing versus +3.6 when he was on the bench. He simply wasn’t a player who passed the eye test, yet managed to do all the little things that contribute to winning basketball for his team.
Towards the end of his time in Wisconsin, DiVincenzo’s value came largely by way of the insurance he provided with his versatile skillset. He provided the guard skills of Allen, the rebounding of Connaughton, and better defense than the two. That value showed itself, almost ironically, in Milwaukee’s first game after DiVincenzo was traded. Connaughton left the game in the third quarter after a physical defensive play saw him strike his hand against Chris Paul’s forearm.
Already without the services of George Hill and now Connaughton, the Bucks had to give undrafted rookie Lindell Wigginton legitimate first-quarter minutes against the likes of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. The result went quite about what you’d expect against names like those.
DiVincenzo will find better opportunities with the rebuilding Kings
If anything, the bright side comes in that Donte is finally in a situation where his talents can be maximized around a roster that has genuine need of what he brings to the floor. Sacramento already made clear their desire to land the fourth-year guard last year, and with this trade, they finally have the young piece they were willing to offload Bogdan Bogdanovic for at one point.
The National Basketball Association is still ultimately a business at the end of the day, which DiVincenzo himself seemed to be very cognizant of per a report by Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Asked about the prospect of him getting traded, DiVincenzo was quoted as saying: “If a trade happens? I went through a trade. I experienced that. I’m good.”
“I can control my attitude and my effort every day,” he also said.
“I come in every day and be myself, have a great attitude, and play hard … and wherever the chips lay, they lay.”
Fortunately for him, attitude and effort can and have already taken him far in this league. It’s also an entirely new situation up in Sacramento, where they no longer have Tyrese Haliburton gobbling up minutes in the guard rotation, and where a formidable backcourt of DiVincenzo and Davion Mitchell are free to wreak havoc on scoring guards on the defensive end. The Kings also now have the services of a talented guard who was part and parcel of the Bucks’ championship DNA.
Wherever his career takes him, The Big Ragu can rest knowing he’ll always have a home in Milwaukee. And no matter how the cards fall from here on out, nothing can take away his being an integral part of the 2021 NBA champions. Best of luck in Sacramento, Donte!
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